I preached this sermon at the North Carolina Women’s Preaching Festival. It is part B of a duo preaching presentation in which my sister in Christ, Rev. Kara Slade (coincidentally the coolest Episcopalian Priest you will ever meet in life), gave part A. We followed the Lectionary text for the day and purposefully chose the Pauline Epistle to make the statement that female preachers can and do find liberating and affirming messages in Paul’s writings.
Bringing Up The Rear
I Corinthians 15:1-11
- 1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)
3-9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.
10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives.(I Corinthians 15:1-11 MSG)
A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.
There is that troublesome God who plucks us from the simple linear life that we created for ourselves and calls us into ministry.
There are those troublesome insecurities, that voice that rings in our heads “who am I to stand in front of people and speak. I am nobody.”
There is that troublesome glass ceiling that women have been hurling stones at for generations but that pesky glass is strong and hard to crack.
There are those troublesome stereotypes. The covert and overt messages that say “if you are going to be a woman preacher you have to look a certain way. Talk a certain way. Stand a certain way. Be a certain way.”
And then. And then. And then
There are those troublesome voices who say again and again to women preachers that you do not belong in the pulpit, you do not belong in the episcopacy, you do not belong in leadership in the church. And if you think otherwise then you are are just being troublesome.
That’s why I love this text in I Corinthians 15. Because Paul here is the exemplary model for every preacher but I would argue his words here are an exemplary model for women preachers especially.
For a simple truth, a simple fact that we all know to be true about Paul: Paul was troublesome.
He preached the Gospel all over the Roman Empire. Without license, without approval, without permission. And he was constantly facing resistance from his fellow preachers.
“You little upstart, who do you think you are,” they would declare. “You don’t belong to our good ol’ boy preaching club. You are not an Apostle. Were you there to see Jesus walk on water? Did you see him feed the masses? Where you there when he died on the cross and revealed himself to us in the upper room?”
“Aha!” Paul replies here in this text. “It is just as you say. Jesus presented himself alive to Peter. To his disciples. To James and to many more.
And then. And then. And then.
he presented himself alive to me! to me! to me!
- It was fitting that I bring up the rear (I Corinthians 1:3-9 MSG).”
It was fitting that I, too, join this long legacy of Prophetic witness to the Holy Gospel.
He goes on to say that it was fitting not because he was so holy. Not because he was so worthy. Not because he had never made any mistakes. But because God is so gracious. And he says in the text “And I am not about to let his grace go to waste (I Corinthians 10-11 MSG).”
And so he responds I’m sorry if proclaiming the Message is so troublesome to you. I’m sorry if I cause you trouble. But you see, it’s not me it is the troublesome God who is in me. It is the troublesome God who has sent me. It is that troublesome God who presented himself alive to me.
And don’t you see that similar to Paul, a woman preacher is a woman in trouble.
Every time she lifts her voice to preach the Message
she is troubling the still waters of the Church.
She is troubling how things used to be.
She is troubling our understanding of I Timothy and Ephesians.
So it is incumbent upon all female preachers to, like Paul, stand boldly and declare
I know I am a lot of trouble.
But you have to understand that it is not me.
It is the God in me.
It is the God who sent me.
It is the God who presented himself alive to me.
It is exactly as scripture says, Jesus died for our sins.
It is exactly as scripture says, he was buried in the grave.
It is exactly as scripture says, he was raised from the dead.
And it is exactly as scripture says, Jesus revealed himself to Peter,
And me! And me! And me!
Because it is exactly as scripture says in Joel 2, ”I will pour out my Spirit on all people and your sons and your daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28).
And so it is fitting that I bring up the rear.
Not because I am so holy. Not because I am so special. Not because I have never made any mistakes. But because God is so gracious. And I am not about to let that grace go to waste.
And so I admonish you today, you women preachers, to own your space in the long legacy of prophetic witness to the Holy Gospel.
Do not be afraid to bring up the rear.
What does that mean? Ultimately, that means do not be afraid to be troublesome.
For a woman preacher is a woman in power.
A woman preacher is woman in strength.
A woman preacher is a woman in audacity.
A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.
Rev Tiffany Thomas
Bringing Up The Rear: For Those Troublesome Female Preachers